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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Christianity Vindicated
By François-René vicomte de Chateaubriand (1768–1848)
 
From ‘The Genius of Christianity’

DURING the reign of the Emperor Julian commenced a persecution, perhaps more dangerous than violence itself, which consisted in loading the Christians with disgrace and contempt. Julian began his hostility by plundering the churches; he then forbade the faithful to teach or to study the liberal arts and sciences. Sensible, however, of the important advantages of the institutions of Christianity, the emperor determined to establish hospitals and monasteries, and after the example of the gospel system to combine morality with religion; he ordered a kind of sermons to be delivered in the pagan temples….  1
  From the time of Julian to that of Luther, the Church, flourishing in full vigor, had no occasion for apologists; but when the Western schism took place, with new enemies arose new defenders. It cannot be denied that at first the Protestants had the superiority, at least in regard to forms, as Montesquieu has remarked. Erasmus himself was weak when opposed to Luther, and Theodore Beza had a captivating manner of writing, in which his opponents were too often deficient….  2
  It is natural for schism to lead to infidelity, and for heresy to engender atheism. Bayle and Spinoza arose after Calvin, and they found in Clarke and Leibnitz men of sufficient talents to refute their sophistry. Abbadie wrote an apology for religion, remarkable for method and sound argument. Unfortunately his style is feeble, though his ideas are not destitute of brilliancy. “If the ancient philosophers,” observes Abbadie, “adored the Virtues, their worship was only a beautiful species of idolatry.”  3
  While the Church was yet enjoying her triumph, Voltaire renewed the persecution of Julian. He possessed the baneful art of making infidelity fashionable among a capricious but amiable people. Every species of self-love was pressed into this insensate league. Religion was attacked with every kind of weapon, from the pamphlet to the folio, from the epigram to the sophism. No sooner did a religious book appear than the author was overwhelmed with ridicule, while works which Voltaire was the first to laugh at among his friends were extolled to the skies. Such was his superiority over his disciples that he sometimes could not forbear diverting himself with their irreligious enthusiasm. Meanwhile the destructive system continued to spread throughout France. It was first adopted in those provincial academies, each of which was a focus of bad taste and faction. Women of fashion and grave philosophers alike read lectures on infidelity. It was at length concluded that Christianity was no better than a barbarous system, and that its fall could not happen too soon for the liberty of mankind, the promotion of knowledge, the improvement of the arts, and the general comfort of life.  4
  To say nothing of the abyss into which we were plunged by this aversion to the religion of the gospel, its immediate consequence was a return, more affected than sincere, to that mythology of Greece and Rome to which all the wonders of antiquity were ascribed. People were not ashamed to regret that worship which had transformed mankind into a herd of madmen, monsters of indecency, or ferocious beasts. This could not fail to inspire contempt for the writers of the age of Louis XIV., who however had reached the high perfection which distinguished them only by being religious. If no one ventured to oppose them face to face, on account of their firmly established reputation, they were nevertheless attacked in a thousand indirect ways. It was asserted that they were unbelievers in their hearts; or at least that they would have been much greater characters had they lived in our times. Every author blessed his good fortune for having been born in the glorious age of the Diderots and d’Alemberts, in that age when all the attainments of the human mind were ranged in alphabetical order in the ‘Encyclopédie,’ that Babel of the sciences and of reason….  5
  It was therefore necessary to prove that on the contrary the Christian religion, of all the religions that ever existed, is the most humane, the most favorable to liberty and to the arts and sciences; that the modern world is indebted to it for every improvement from agriculture to the abstract sciences, from the hospitals for the reception of the unfortunate to the temples reared by the Michael Angelos and embellished by the Raphaels. It was necessary to prove that nothing is more divine than its morality, nothing more lovely and more sublime than its tenets, its doctrine, and its worship; that it encourages genius, corrects the taste, develops the virtuous passions, imparts energy to the ideas, presents noble images to the writer, and perfect models to the artist; that there is no disgrace in being believers with Newton and Bossuet, with Pascal and Racine. In a word, it was necessary to summon all the charms of the imagination and all the interests of the heart to the assistance of that religion against which they had been set in array.  6
  The reader may now have a clear view of the object of our work. All other kinds of apologies are exhausted, and perhaps they would be useless at the present day. Who would now sit down to read a work professedly theological? Possibly a few sincere Christians who are already convinced. But, it may be asked, May there not be some danger in considering religion in a merely human point of view? Why so? Does our religion shrink from the light? Surely one great proof of its divine origin is, that it will bear the test of the fullest and severest scrutiny of reason. Would you have us always open to the reproach of enveloping our tenets in sacred obscurity, lest their falsehood should be detected? Will Christianity be the less true for appearing the more beautiful? Let us banish our weak apprehensions; let us not, by an excess of religion, leave religion to perish. We no longer live in those times when you might say, “Believe without inquiring.” People will inquire in spite of us; and our timid silence, in heightening the triumph of the infidel, will diminish the number of believers.  7
  It is time that the world should know to what all those charges of absurdity, vulgarity, and meanness, that are daily alleged against Christianity, may be reduced. It is time to demonstrate that instead of debasing the ideas, it encourages the soul to take the most daring flights, and is capable of enchanting the imagination as divinely as the deities of Homer and Virgil. Our arguments will at least have this advantage, that they will be intelligible to the world at large and will require nothing but common-sense to determine their weight and strength. In works of this kind authors neglect, perhaps rather too much, to speak the language of their readers. It is necessary to be a scholar with a scholar, and a poet with a poet. The Almighty does not forbid us to tread the flowery path, if it serves to lead the wanderer once more to him; nor is it always by the steep and rugged mountain that the lost sheep finds its way back to the fold.  8
  We think that this mode of considering Christianity displays associations of ideas which are but imperfectly known. Sublime in the antiquity of its recollections, which go back to the creation of the world; ineffable in its mysteries, adorable in its sacraments, interesting in its history, celestial in its morality, rich and attractive in its ceremonial,—it is fraught with every species of beauty. Would you follow it in poetry? Tasso, Milton, Corneille, Racine, Voltaire, will depict to you its miraculous effects. In belles-lettres, in oratory, history, and philosophy, what have not Bossuet, Fénélon, Massillon, Bourdaloue, Bacon, Pascal, Euler, Newton, Leibnitz, produced by its inspiration! In the arts, what masterpieces! If you examine it in its worship, what ideas are suggested by its antique Gothic churches, its admirable prayers, its impressive ceremonies! Among its clergy, behold all those scholars who have handed down to you the languages and the works of Greece and Rome; all those anchorets of Thebais; all those asylums for the unfortunate; all those missionaries to China, to Canada, to Paraguay; not forgetting the military orders whence chivalry derived its origin. Everything has been engaged in our cause—the manners of our ancestors, the pictures of days of yore, poetry, even romances themselves. We have called smiles from the cradle, and tears from the tomb. Sometimes, with the Maronite monk, we dwell on the summits of Carmel and Lebanon; at others we watch with the Daughter of Charity at the bedside of the sick. Here two American lovers summon us into the recesses of their deserts; there we listen to the sighs of the virgin in the solitude of the cloister. Homer takes his place by Milton, and Virgil beside Tasso; the ruins of Athens and of Memphis form contrasts with the ruins of Christian monuments, and the tombs of Ossian with our rural churchyards. At St. Denis we visit the ashes of kings; and when our subject requires us to treat of the existence of God, we seek our proofs in the wonders of Nature alone. In short, we endeavor to strike the heart of the infidel in every possible way; but we dare not flatter ourselves that we possess the miraculous rod of religion which caused living streams to burst from the flinty rock.  9
 
 
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